The pedestrian bridge spanning Kearny Street between Chinatown's Hilton and Portsmouth Square Plaza is not ordinarily an active space. The bridge usually boasts a few people sunning themselves, a clandestine skateboarder or two. But just one day after the Chinese Culture Center (CCC) unveiled Sky Bridge by artist Beili Liu, the bridge swarmed with tourists, locals and a troupe of lion dancers, all there to bask in the dazzling effect of Liu’s month-long public installation.
Sky Bridge, the Austin-based artist’s second project for the CCC, is made of 50,000 brick-sized pieces of mirrored Mylar, each carefully glued to the bridge’s existing brick walkway and banked walls. Simple but transformative, Liu's installation makes the mundane magical. On sunny days, the CCC recommends sunglasses. On overcast days, the Mylar shines silver, gray and blue, resembling a watery surface over Chinatown’s busy thoroughfare.
The installation is the final element of the CCC’s multi-year Central Subway, Journey to Chinatown project, a series of temporary public art installations and performances celebrating the history of Chinese immigration and the arrival of San Francisco’s Central Subway.
CCC artistic director and curator Abby Chen says she wanted the series -- which included music and dance festivals, along with commissioned murals in Wentworth Alley and Walter U Lum Place -- to “bring awareness to the dire need for open space” in Chinatown.
“This is the second–highest-density neighborhood in the country,” Chen says. “The seniors and the children are really kind of trapped in their SROs, and Portsmouth Square is the only open space that we have. Hopefully people can really start to use the bridge, which was underutilized before.”